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'Gentle giant' guid dog Keanu dies

September 24, 2011

Keanu was the first Seeing Eye dog Bill Caldwell received from Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Ore., and to Bill, he was number one.

"I think it was just within minutes or hours of the time we met we'd really bonded," says Caldwell. "He always wanted to be there with me. I couldn't do anything without him being at my feet. It's just a really close, loving bond that you get with them."

Keanu passed away on Sept. 10 at the age of 13 from esophageal paralysis, which caused swallowing and breathing problems. Keanu served as Caldwell's Seeing Eye dog from Nov. 1999 until April 2007. After retirement, Keanu went to live with Caldwell's daughter, Roxanne Fridley.

Keanu first made the Hood River News in 2000, when Caldwell and Ken Jernstedt talked about the proper etiquette around Seeing Eye dogs.

The next time Keanu was featured in the News was 2006, after he was attacked by another dog.

"On the day of the attack, the pair went to Rosauers Supermarket for their daily trip to have coffee," wrote News staff writer Sue Ryan on July 1, 2006. "When they went to return home, they walked past the store's can room when Caldwell said a dog jumped onto Keanu from nowhere."

Rosauers employee Mike Lompa helped get the dog off of Keanu, then took down the owner's information. Unfortunately, she gave false information, making locating her difficult.

"Keanu was attacked in May and they found her in September," Caldwell says. "It took a Good Samaritan who lived in BZ Corners. She saw the story in the Hood River News and thought she recognized the woman from the description. She went looking for her and took pictures, then brought them to Mike, and he identified them." The owner had to pay Keanu's vet bill, and Skamania County Animal Control had the animal euthanized.

Keanu received numerous puncture wounds in the attack, as well as emotional scars - he was terrified to be around other dogs.

"Guide Dog wanted him to continue working, but he was so traumatized that he couldn't," says Fridley. Keanu worked for about another year after the attack, retiring Easter 2007.

"It was really sad when Keanu got attacked because he had another two or three years left in him," said Caldwell. "They're emotional dogs and they want to help their master no matter what. Even when he got hurt that day, he wanted to lead me home."

Fridley had applied to adopt Keanu upon his retirement before the attack took place.

"We knew ahead of time that I was going to adopt him because it was too hard for my dad to give him up," she says. "We didn't want him up for adoption for someone else to take."

Fridley says that it took more than six months for Keanu to be comfortable enough to approach another dog on his own after retiring. And because Keanu had been a working dog, it took time to learn to relax and enjoy himself. In a June 27, 2007, article updating Keanu's retirement, Fridley said she hoped that "someday he'll figure out that he's supposed to chase the ball when someone tosses it for him."

"He never did play fetch," Findley says. "He just didn't care about it.

"He was such a gentle giant and loved everyone. He was laid back and happy-go-lucky and very special. He'd just let the kids crawl all over him."

As for Caldwell, his warmest memories of Keanu mostly center on the dog's "willingness to do a job that is not a normal job for a dog to do."

"He was constantly wanting to go, and it didn't matter where it was - he just wanted to go," says Caldwell. "All the people in town we came in contact with just loved him. It was like he was smiling all the time."

Caldwell has had two more Seeing Eye dogs since Keanu's retirement: Timmy, who "was a dog who wanted to be a dog," says Fridley, and who is now the mascot at Hotel Monaco in Portland; and Harold, Caldwell's current dog, who "is pretty close to the great dog that Keanu was, and more attentive to his job," said Fridley.

Caldwell and Fridley thank Dr. Mike Foss and Dr. Tom Gilliom, and the staff at Alpine Veterinary Hospital and Tucker Road Animal Hospital, respectively, for the medical help and care Keanu received over the past 12 years.

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